We had slavery, which almost tore this country apart. Then the Jim Crow laws, set up with greed and spite as their motivation, in order to, if they couldn’t continue to enslave the body, enslave the mind. It wasn’t until 1954 that integration of schools was ordered, and it took armed men to enforce it in 1957. It wasn’t until 1971 that the Supreme Court said that forced busing could, and would, be used to integrate schools.
So it’s not as though it’s been that long ago that a white kid and a black kid might have gone their whole lives without actually talking to each other.
But back in slave days, people knew. Whites saw the oppression and either rationalized it, or got troubled enough to do something about it.
And during Jim Crow, people knew. Whites knew what they were doing, and either rationalized it, or got troubled enough to do something about it.
You see how racism is divisive in itself?
When you rationalize the suffering of others, it does something to you. If you’re a sociopath (as I think some of these people were), you don’t care. But if you do care, you either put it out of your mind, you make up reasons why you’re oppressing another human being (they’re dirty, evil, stupid, etc.), or you finally come to your senses and do something.
Those people who did something were the bravest of the brave, in days when even talking to a black person could put you in the category of ‘n*** -lover’, which in some areas could lead to a group of people ready to
perjure themselves testify you had a black ancestor, putting you and your entire family on the wrong side of Jim Crow.
So there was fear. Fear makes people do things that you and I might think are insane. It makes people teach hate to little children in order to keep them safe.
But people knew what they were doing. And if they had any decency at all, they hated themselves for it. They felt shame about it, didn’t want to talk about it. They didn’t want their children to learn what they had done.
Then school districts were forced to integrate their schools, each side primed by parents who were afraid and angry — for different reasons.
And so a generation grew up not being taught what had happened (unless their parents taught them at home, and most whites didn’t even want to think about it). Teachers slid over, or ‘ran out of time’ to teach recent history. But the attitudes, the fear that other races engendered in their parents (and if someone scares Mom and Dad, they must be very powerful), the underlying shame … these lingered.
This is not in any way to excuse the prejudice of the past 30 years. But in those of my generation, much of it wasn’t intentional; people parroted attitudes (and in the sociopathic, actions) from their parents and grandparents. Not that it makes prejudice any less painful on the receiving end.
Re: institutional racism … look at who runs those institutions. Look at how old they are, when they grew up. I think you’ll find a pattern there. Remember: they knew what they were doing. I’m convinced they still know, even today.
The law, schooling, the economy — everything is set up for blacks to fail. Those that do succeed are in many ways the best of the best, and in a just world would be lauded as such. But we don’t live in such a world, yet.
What Obama’s speech made clear was that you and I have more in common than we thought. We all have the hateful grandparent or uncle, maybe even a parent who spews vileness under stress, who disapproves of you spending time with ‘those kind’.
In this we’re alike.
But it was their war. We, as the children of integration, Obama’s generation, don’t have to keep fighting it. Our children stare blankly at us and wonder if we’re crazy for keeping it going when we don’t even understand why we’re fighting.
Do you feel strange when a family of another color moves next door because of something in them, or something we picked up from our grandparents, who were trying to protect us from a Jim Crow witch hunt? Do you expect a person of another color to say or do something wrong because of them, before they open their mouths or do anything, or of what’s been placed inside you?
They say you see what you expect to see. For far too long, we’ve been told to expect the worst from each other. Obama has moved past this. He expects to see the good, which honestly blows me away.
Can we muster the courage to look at people as they are, rather than what our parents and grandparents have taught us they are? That is the question we face. Because when you see someone as they are, it’s a bit harder to hate and fear them.